It is the curse of the commentator and the pundit: no sooner has the “expert” suggested that a player is about to do something than the bloke with the bat goes and does the exact opposite.
Andy Murray has made a career out of it. At the beginning of Murray’s career, Roger Federer claimed that the Scot was going to struggle if he continued to play so defensively (Murray had just dumped Federer out of the Dubai tournament at the time). So Murray went on to win the next five of their six matches. Clearly, he was struggling.
Coming to Wimbledon this year, Murray had a sore hip. The vultures circled overhead. How could he possibly compete at a grand slam over the best-of-five sets with only one good leg? Especially after the year he has had so far? And then Murray turns in a performance against Dustin Brown on Wednesday that had Pat Cash and John McEnroe purring. Then again, he was supposed to be riding the crest of a slump before the French Open and yet came within four points of reaching the final.
No. Tell Murray he cannot do something and he will bust a gut to prove you wrong. These days, at the venerable age of 30 and as a happily married man with one young daughter and another baby on the way, he does not take the critics’ comments so much to heart but, from time to time, they can be just the spur he needs to kick on to a higher level. Writing off his chances before Wimbledon started may just have brought his focus to pinpoint sharpness.
“I think it needs to be a little bit of both – well for me anyway,” he said. “Throughout the course of a year you need to have the motivation yourself to want to be the best or to want to win tournaments, and want to train hard, all of those things.
“But there are different stages in the year where someone says that you can’t do something or people think that you’re struggling or you might be coming towards the end – which I’ve been getting asked, just because I said one thing about potentially not competing at the top of the game for so much longer, that I’m thinking about retiring, or how many more years I’m going to play, or am I starting to slip a little bit.
“So those things at different stages, they can help. Like before the French Open, when I’m in a ‘terrible’ place in terms of my game and I’m not playing well, having that little bit of extra motivation can help.”
So far he has beaten a wet-behind-the-ears rookie with a penchant for showboating (Alexander Bublik) and vastly more experienced showman with a penchant for trying the impossible (Brown). And Murray has been cool, controlled and utterly in charge throughout.
Now he faces Fabio Fognini who in comparison to his first two opponents seems relatively restrained. But do not get the world No 29 from Italy angry. He is not so much volatile as highly combustible and anything can set him off – a dodgy line call, a time violation or merely a fluffed forehand. He can pick a fight with his own shadow if the mood so takes him. But on a good day, Fognini is an inspired shot-maker and he flattened Murray in Rome in the second round a couple of months ago. The win brought their head-to-head record up to three wins apiece over the past ten years.
Admittedly, the Murray who turned up for work that night looked thoroughly out of sorts but Fognini was still very, very good. That, though, was on clay. On grass, on a show court with the crowd backing the Scot to the hilt, it ought to be a different ball game. In nine attempts, this is only the third time Fognini has reached the third round. And on both other occasions, he never got any further.
“He’s very solid off his forehand and backhand side, but he can also hit winners from both sides,” Murray said. “A lot of guys maybe have a big forehand and are maybe more consistent on the opposite wing. Whereas Fabio can hit winners off both sides. He has good hands up at the net. He moves extremely well on the other surfaces. I don’t know how well he moves on the grass. I haven’t played him on it. But, yeah, he certainly can play well.”
And if you want to make sure that the world No 1 plays well, too, just tell him he does not stand a chance against Fognini. That should see Murray flying into the fourth round at double-quick pace.